Of Franco and other demons | Sean Buhagiar

Too soon? Newly-founded theatre initiative Stagun tat-Teatru Malti gets rolling with a bang with a play loosely inspired by the furore that surrounded the divisive figure of Franco Debono. But what, exactly, is Albert Marshall’s ‘dramm dokubuffu’ all about, we ask actor Sean Buhagiar?

Sean Buhagiar and Larissa Bonaci will form part of the ensemble cast of Indemonjati u Maltin Ohra.
Sean Buhagiar and Larissa Bonaci will form part of the ensemble cast of Indemonjati u Maltin Ohra.

Having recently made theatre his full-time pursuit - a rarity in Malta - actor Sean Buhagiar is keen to discuss the motivations behind 'L-Indemonjati u Maltin Ohra', a play by Albert Marshall loosely inspired by the controversial political figure of Franco Debono.

But perhaps it is telling of both the project's anarchic structure and the slipperiness of its central inspiration - Debono himself - that I emerge none the wiser from our half-hour conversation.

This, despite the fact that the team behind the production underwent something of a rigorous process while putting the play together - Marshall writes and directs - even arranging discussion meetings with Debono himself.

"Originally the script was focused on just Franco Debono. But then the story just exploded into a whole community of characters... there's even a ship in it now (Stultifera Navis), and the audience will also be involved too..."

But surely, the Franco Debono saga is too recent to give playwrights time to craft an entire play on? The key to this question is the way the team is working: on the initiative of theatre veteran and filmmaker Mario Philip Azzopardi, the play will be the first out of the stable for 'Fondazzjoni Avventura'.

The aim of the Fondazzjoni, Buhagiar tells me, is to revive Maltese-language theatre by worshopping fresh, practically made-to-measure stage plays by local writers.

"The driving concept is to come up with an idea, then find a script writer who's able and willing to make something out of it."

Over and above selecting an adequate script, the next step is to craft a production to do it justice. Naturally, this requires a producer, and according to Buhagiar, the Maltese theatrical scene is hampered because it doesn't fully grasp the importance of the producer's role. 

"It's a crucial stepping stone to a production. A producer should be a sensitive collaborator who works hand-in-hand with the playwright and the director but who serves as a kind of overseer too... Mario Philip has that vision, moreover, his character is, well..." - I listen intently for Buhagiar to pick a euphemism - "...his element is fire," he finally blurts out with a chuckle.

"He has a great love and appreciation of the local scene and he has a focus for the way forward."

But although Debono himself has been something of a social pariah, regardless of the political angle you're looking at him from, the same could not be said of Mario Philip Azzopardi or Albert Marshall: both of whom are known for their sympathies towards Labour (Azzopardi even directed a PL campaign spot starring Narcy Calamatta).

"I honestly don't think this is a problem," Buhagiar assures me. "Our team is made up of people from every side of the political camp... what I find peculiar is the way Maltese people react to artists declaring their political bias - abroad, it's not really an issue - just look at all the actors and musicians who endorsed Barack Obama..." 

And what does Debono himself make of the play he inspired? "Actually, he knows nothing about the finished product. All he knows is that the play will be based on him somehow..."

I suppose that, like the 'maverick MP' himself, we'll all have to wait for the premiere to find out.

Indemonjati u Maltin Ohra will be playing at The Manoel Theatre over 22, 23 and 24 February.